Toyota releases 3-part mini-documentary on African Americans and the auto industry


Just as African American History Month comes to a close, Toyota has released a three-part mini-documentary series on how black people helped shape the American automobile industry.

Toyota releases documentary on African Americans and the auto industry
Early jobs often were in the foundry

In the first part of the series, Detroit-based journalist and automotive historian Frank Washington notes that when African Americans left the South as part of The Great Migration, it was jobs in the auto industry that drew them North.

As a result, Washington says, “Ten different states passed anti-discrimination laws in the 1940s. So, the glass ceiling was being raised — maybe not much, but a little bit…. They weren’t necessarily living from paycheck to paycheck, they had money to spend, they could participate fully in the American economy.

Toyota releases documentary on African Americans and the auto industry
Working on the assembly line

“Now a lot of that was fueled by the industry… It sounds corny, but there was an air of freedom that they had never known before.”

The second segment features Wil James, an African American who became the head executive at several Toyota assembly plants in the United States. The last portion includes an interview with Damon Lester, a Toyota dealer who notes that, “Black dealers have faced discrimination back then and even today. There are a lot of black dealers today that can’t advertise that they own their stores.”

He adds, however, that African-American consumers and their tastes in automobiles have had a huge impact on the American car, noting in particular how so many vehicles have an “urban” design vibe.

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Here are the links to the second and third segments in the series:



A former daily newspaper sports editor, Larry Edsall spent a dozen years as an editor at AutoWeek magazine before making the transition to writing for the web and becoming the author of more than 15 automotive books. In addition to being founding editor at, Larry has written for The New York Times and The Detroit News and was an adjunct honors professor at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


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